Race to the Top was a federal grant competition among states* for $4.35 billion worth of school funding. Twelve states were awarded between $75,000,000 and $700,000,000. Was the competition ultimately good for American students? You can Google it (or read more here) and decide for yourself. In my opinion, though, a rising tide does not raise all boats when only certain boats are fully funded.
Why am I writing about a race for school funding that ended in 2010? Because with kindergarten registration fast approaching, our family is entering its own educational competition.
While I teach in one public school district, we live within the boundaries of another. The two are similar if not in size, at least in their diverse student bodies and wide range of socioeconomic factors affecting their families. The neighborhood school is located six blocks from our home. Henry would be allowed to take the school bus but I prefer that he not.
I will happily take care of the logistics of getting him to and from school each day. And that won't be an easy feat since the kindergarten school day ends at 10:30 am. Yes, 10:30 am. The children receive just 2.5 hours of daily classroom instruction. (By comparison, this year Henry is attending a three hour private prekindergarten program.)
As a mom and as an educator, I am convinced that 1/2 day kindergarten is not right for my son. Thank goodness this is America and I have options. The school district does offer an all day kindergarten option. Unfortunately, for the 1,200 five year olds residing within the district's boundaries there are just 56 seats available in this "academy" program. Parents must compete to be the first to register their children for the six hour school day. Parents must also have the extra $250 per month to help fund the program.
So let me recap: If you, the parent of a five year old, have a fast car and a chunk of disposable income, your child can receive up to 60 more hours of classroom instruction each month. He or she will enter first grade with 525 more hours of school experience than 1,144 of his or her peers.
Will our family be a winner? Your guess is as good as mine. Kindergarten registration opens to the public at 9 am on a Thursday. Rumor has it that the full day class will be filled within an hour and a half. Yet another source warns not to wait until 9 am but rather enter the front office at 8 and ask for a number to secure our place in line.
I realize that many parents desire full day public kindergarten programs in order to lessen their childcare costs. For our family, though, that is beside the point. When I signed up to be a single mom, I knew that childcare expenses were a part of the deal. I willingly pay for the quality care my children need, for however long they need it. And even with full day classes, Henry will still need several hours of after school supervision before I get home.
I'm not looking for bargains; I'm looking for a quality educational experience. Is 12.5 hours of weekly instruction enough? I don't think so. Admittedly, a full day of kindergarten may be too stimulating for some youngsters. And there are many moms who can spend the other half of the day educating their kindergartners at home. I'm not against giving parents and their children options. But we, as a community, need equitable access to those options.
Finally, I'm a realist with a basic understanding of how American schools are funded. I know that the U.S. is not Finland. I still have to ask, can't we do better than 2 1/2 hour days?
What do the schools in your area offer?
*several states refused to compete.